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A photo of a Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea), male
Red-billed Quelea, Male

Red-billed Quelea

Quelea quelea

The Red-billed Quelea, also known as the Red-billed Weaver or Red-billed Dioch, is a diminutive migratory bird, part of the weaver family Ploceidae. It measures approximately 12 cm in length and weighs between 15 to 26 grams. This sparrow-like bird is native to the vast expanses of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Identification Tips

The Red-billed Quelea is characterized by its heavy, cone-shaped bill, which is red in non-breeding males and females, and orange to yellow in breeding females. Breeding males are distinguished by a black or occasionally white facial mask, surrounded by a colorful wash on the head and breast, which can be purplish, pinkish, rusty, or yellowish. Non-breeding plumage is less vibrant, with light underparts and striped brown upper parts.

Habitat

This species typically inhabits tropical and subtropical areas with a seasonal semi-arid climate, avoiding dense forests, deserts, and colder regions. It is often found in dry thornbush grasslands, including the Sahel, and requires proximity to water sources for daily drinking.

Distribution

The Red-billed Quelea's distribution covers most of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a highly migratory bird, moving seasonally in response to the availability of its primary food source, seeds of annual grasses.

Behaviour

With an estimated population sometimes peaking at 1.5 billion individuals post-breeding, the Red-billed Quelea is considered the most numerous undomesticated bird on the planet. It forms colossal colonies for breeding and feeds in immense flocks that can number in the millions.

Song & Calls

The species produces a variety of sounds, including a distinctive noise from the wingbeats of flying flocks. Males sing in short bursts, starting with chatter followed by a warbling tune. Both sexes call, and the collective noise at roosts or nesting sites can be quite intense.

Breeding

Breeding occurs in very large colonies, with the construction of oval roofed nests woven from grass and suspended from thorny branches or reeds. The breeding cycle is one of the shortest known in birds, with incubation lasting only nine or ten days.

Similar Species

The female Pin-tailed Whydah may be confused with the Red-billed Quelea in non-breeding plumage, but it can be distinguished by its whitish brow and black stripe through the eye.

Diet and Feeding

The Red-billed Quelea primarily feeds on seeds of annual grasses, but it also causes significant damage to cereal crops, earning it the moniker "Africa's feathered locust." It feeds in large flocks, with a rolling cloud-like movement that allows efficient exploitation of food sources.

Conservation Status

Despite its reputation as a pest, the Red-billed Quelea is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, due to its vast distribution and enormous population numbers.

Red-billed Quelea Sounds


Recorded by: © 
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Red-billed Queleas on Birda

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A photo of a Thick-billed Weaver (Amblyospiza albifrons) , male

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Amblyospiza albifrons
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